Off The Shelf vs Bespoke WordPress themes

Posted by: Alex on October 14, 2021

In the world of WordPress websites a “theme” has a simple enough meaning; pertaining to the look, feel and function of the website.

However, the term “theme” is about as useful as describing both a Ferrari and a Reliant Robin as “cars”.

In simple terms, there are 2 main routes to take when it comes to building a WordPress website:

  1. Off the shelf themes
  2. Custom or “Bespoke” themes

A quick overview:

Off the Shelf Themes:

Typically pre-designed and come with a certain look & feel—often having a specific industry in mind. Example: There are many “dentist” themes available that have a typical green/blue design with stock photography supplied.


  • A “new build” home in a housing estate, many other people may have one that looks exactly the same, but they are budget-friendly and quicker to build
  • An off the shelf suit from a retail store
  • “à la carte” option at a restaurant
Custom or “Bespoke” themes:

When branding, functionality, and speed are top of the priorities this is the solution. Handcrafted, designed and coded—a bespoke theme offers the ultimate in flexibility for creating a website that is unique and has the ability to be adapted and fine-tuned to exact requirements.


  • A home designed by an architect for a specific purpose and future in mind
  • A tailored suit
  • Michelin star food made to order

Pros and Cons:

Off the Shelf Themes:


  • Budget-friendly
  • “Quick” to get up and running
  • Many options available to choose from
  • Page building systems make it easy for anyone to throw content together (also a con below)


  • Potential security issues
  • Can be slow and impact search engine optimisation
  • Design often locked to a certain feel
  • Longevity tends to be impacted as they’re not flexible long term
  • Packaged with many additional plugins, features & general bloat that may not be used
  • Often use proprietary page building systems
Bespoke themes:


  • Custom features and systems made to fit exact requirements
  • Precise branding
  • Faster and higher potential for search engine optimisation
  • Flexibility for adding features and changes over time (such as custom booking systems or API integrations).


  • Typically longer required to design & develop
  • Higher initial costs
  • Adding on new designs/features or landing pages often requires a web developer

In conclusion:

Off the shelf themes have their place in the world; if it’s just a simple blog or small business page they can be perfectly adequate. However, increasingly a website is a business’s primary source of marketing and focal point of business activity—and off the shelf themes are increasingly not fit for purpose, especially as Google (et al) are focusing more on user experience and speed.

If you’re interested in further info, advice or ready to start a new project, contact me.